This Arrested Development review contains spoilers
Arrested Development Season 5 Episode 3
Balboa Towers in the O.C. (don’t call it that) on Arrested Development is one of the most reliably funny locations on any sitcom. The show is never hurting for inherently funny locations like the model home, Señor Tadpoles, or all of Mexico. But Balboa Towers, with its garish, old money furniture and style has always been one of the Bluths’ funniest meeting spots.
It’s fitting then that it should be the first location where we see the entire Arrested Development cast reunited in season five (kind of). “Everyone Gets Atrophy” opens where episode two closed: with everyone gathered in Lucille’s apartment for some kind of surprise.
The surprise as it turns out isn’t much of a surprise at all. Michael, George, Lucille, Tobias, GOB, and Lindsay have all gathered to tell discuss Lindsay’s run for office and reveal the “Best Family” award they will be giving themselves. But mostly they’ve really just gathered to troll Michael.
“We’re just two hands-on-our-hips, pikes-up-our-rectums scolds,” Tobias says, copying Michael’s mannerisms and wearing an awful toupee. He’s also dyed his mustache what he thinks is the color of Michael’s skin, bright red.
After a whole season and two episodes spent mostly apart, this should be Arrested Development Season 5’s triumphant moment. The whole gang’s here and Tobias is still weird! Instead it serves as pretty compelling evidence that the issues with season four went far beyond the separation of the cast and those issues still persist here.
The meeting at Lucille’s department serves as a framing device to reveal what the other characters have been up to (wasn’t that the whole point of season four?). GOB and George have been trying to reclaim their manhoods in Mexico (“Daddy not horny”). Sally Sitwell hasn’t been seen since Cinco de Quatro after she discovered her candidate’s opponent, Herbert Love, knocked out in the streets. Buster is in prison – though no one knows that yet.
Other than those divergences (save for one blissfuly fun George Michael interlude) the entirety of the episode takes place within the safe confines of casa de Lucille. All that time spent in one place, with characters trying their best to out-absurd each other creates an inert, at times intensely boring experience.
The cast of Arrested Development is very talented. Here, however, they’re thrown into the deep end with little editing, narration, or musical assistance. Arrested Development works best when it’s a tightly constructed machine and at Balboa Towers it suddenly becomes far too stingy with the soundtrack and editing buttons. A character like GOB is funny because the invisible hand of the show always knows when to usher him offscreen. This has to move fast for any of it to work and now it’s just mysteriously ground to a halt.
After cooling his heels in Mexico following his Tony Wonder tryst, GOB has been called back up to the big leagues to be the Bluth Company CEO. The position comes with his own new rock-breasted girlfriend Joni Beard (ex-wife to ubiquitous anchor John Beard). Her very presence leads to one of the best jokes of the episode. Well, she’s my beard now,” GOB says of her proudly. That is a truly wonderful Arrested Development joke. It’s a pun that has been hiding in plain sight for the entirelty of the series until it’s ready to be used to ruthlessly make fun of a character. And the first time I watched the episode I completely missed it. Or at least I didn’t remember it ever happening. Because the narrative at Balboa Towers is so shaggy and overlong. It’s dying for more cuts to bring the existing jokes to life.
The reunion of all the characters at Lucille’s also highlights how this is not even a true reunion at all. The days of behind the scenes fuckery were supposed to be long gone with Arrested Development Season 5. This was to be Mitchel Hurwitz unified vision of an Arrested Development movie that season four had to set up. Then why, in a scene that clearly is making a meal of its cast’s reunification, isn’t the cast all there? George Michael isn’t present at all and Lindsay was clearly green screened in, never appearing near her castmates.
Of course, we now know there are likely reasons why certain members of the cast might not want to have been present. That’s a shame for reasons well beyond whatever’s going onscreen on the show. Still, the action and jokes within Lucille’s apartment are so lifeless that it begs the question why any of this was necessary.
Thankfully, however, George Michael is in the episode even though he’s not with the rest of the cast. From moment one of the pilot, Michael Cera has always been one of the strongest aspects of Arrested Development. And here he comes damn close to rescuing an episode that has no business being rescued. After things get weird in Mexico, George Michael returns home to the Sudden Valley home and embarks on what the narrator says can only be described as “TOTAL REGRESSION.”
Perhaps this is a cheap way to bring back some of the motifs and moments of more beloved seasons but those motifs still work so well it’s hard to be mad. George Michael goes back to his old room, puts on some old clothes and looks through his old “toys.” These, of course, include: a DVD of Les Cousins Dangereux, Quicken, and the Adam suit, frontispiece included and all. George Michael takes the suit for a swim and even secures a pretty girl’s phone number before stepping out of the pool to reveal a wet, monstrous misshapen parody of the human body.
This is the liveliest portion of an episode in desperate need of life. George Michael even recreates his old Star Wars videos and busts out a move that the narrator somehow knows will appear in a Han Solo prequel film in a couple of years. How does he know that?
It’s not even the nostalgic indulgences that make this all work. It’s simply Michael Cera as George Michael. Because one George Michael’s TOTAL REGRESSION is complete, his scenes remain by far the most watchable. He arrives at Lucille’s after Maeby texts him about “kissing cousins” fully prepared to fall back in love with the 16-year-old version of his cousin* again.
*I swear the show has always made this less creepy than it sounds.
Instead he’s greeted by a Maeby in a silver wig. She’s trying to tank her mother’s political campaign but everything she tries only makes her more popular. Arrested Development probably could not have reasonably predicted how sick we would be of the political news cycle at this point but that still doesn’t make the occasional shots of then-candidate Trump on TV in the background or Lindsay’s own Access Hollywood bus moment any less tiresome.
Thankfully what the show really cares about here is George Michael and Maeby and man, what fun characters (portrayed by fun actors) they’ve become. Their back and forth takes place in the apartment kitchen where there is no discernible sound of the Bluth party coming from the other room. It’s like all the scenes at the X-Men mansion in Deadpool. Still their chemistry and sense of play is so contagious that it somehow carries over into the episode’s final scene between Michael and George Michael.
The Bluth gathering at Lucille’s is far too long and awkwardly paced by accident. Michael and George Michael’s first meeting post-punch in the hallway is far too long and awkwardly paced on purpose.
“You know what they say. You make plans and God laughs,” Michael says
“I always wanna make plans but don’t wanna be laughed at,” George Michael responds.
This is the kind of scene that the narrator could conceivably have just fast-forwarded through by saying “and it went on like that for awhile.” Thankfully the show resists the urge this time around as this level of Bluth awkwardness is a treat to dive into – particularly when it all climates when George Michael going in for a hug and Michael breaking out complicated martial arts moves to avoid it.
“Everyone Gets Atrophy” is difficult to get through at times. The family, and the show’s editing are not at their best selves. But the children are the future and thanks to George Michael and Maeby, season five still has a chance.